Yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will be allowing a deviation in operations for the Water Conservation Areas. You may recall my recent posts about the high water levels in the manmade, levied water conservation areas and the dangers to wildlife and tree islands and the fact that when they are “full” it is not possible to “send water south” to the Everglades National Park from Lake Okeechobee….
-which means that if the Lake is filling up the St. Lucie River is closer to being discharged to. Today according to the South Florida Water Management District the lake sits at 16.01 feet. If indeed the present strong El Nino unleashes torrents of rain this winter, as it already did on November 15, 2023, or even if not, and the ACOE wants to “plan” by sending non- toxic algae lake water to the estuaries before summer, we are hosed.
Why? Because the system was built that way. It was built to favor some and hurt others, to protect the Everglades Agricultural Area and South Florida from flooding by draining Lake Okeechobee into the St. Luice and Calooshahatchee.
OK. A lot of issues were accepted from the late 1800s through 1948 when the Central and Southern Florida Plan was built. That does not mean it is acceptable today. There are options that would greatly improve the situation, like having everyone including the EAA sugar lands hold water on their lands instead of using the lake like a pond at a homeowner’s association to irrigate their lawn! This is 2024 almost!
It is appreciated that the ACOE is allowing a deviation for the Water Conservation Areas and of course the animals and tree islands must be helped too. But we must realize this it is not enough to save the the St. Lucie River that is almost dead as it is. No false hope.
Yesterday, I listened to the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board meeting via Zoom. The overriding issue, besides the fact the St. Lucie River system’s C-44 Reservoir is not working, Lake O is over 16 feet and discharges could soon be imminent, was “high water in the Water Conservation Areas.”
What are WCAs anyway?
They were built as part of the giant drainage system of Florida that “over did it.”
The Water Conservation Areas were built to hold water because we had over-drained, but now sometimes they get too full…
In 1947 there was “the great flood,” that destroyed lands and properties in the seventeen counties of the Everglades Drainage District. This led to the U.S. Army Corps building the monstrosity named the Central and Southern Florida Project for Flood Control and Other Purposes (C&SFP.) The S.F.W.M.D. is the local sponsor. The two agencies work together.
United States Geological Survey explains:
“Historically, water flowed slowly southward through the Everglades in a wide swath. Record floods in 1947 and 1948 led to the construction of a massive flood control project. It served to prevent flooding and store water during dry periods. It also allowed for further development of the growing urban area on the Atlantic coastal ridge.
The project established three Water Conservation Areas (WCAs), one of which is the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. These areas are delineated in the Landsat images, clearly divided by the levees and canals. Also visible are the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and Everglades Agricultural Area.Another part of the project is the 100-mile-long eastern perimeter levee, a 3- to 6-meter high earthen berm built to prevent flooding of farmland and urban areas. It runs along the eastern edge of the WCAs, marking a clear separation between the WCAs and urban areas such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Coral Springs.
Along with facilitating the further growth of the urban areas of greater Miami, the other upshot of the project was that the natural flow of water was interrupted, changing the hydrology of the region. The gradual sheet flow of freshwater is diminished, and instead sudden pulses of water are delivered by the canals. These sudden releases caused decreases in the numbers of fish species.”
The bottom line is that when there has been significant rain, like now, the WCAs overfill and the fur bearing animals are seriously at risk, unnaturally surrounded by rising water with no access to their habitat. Deer and other mammals have to take refuge on sacred Native American tree islands or on levees. Often, many species are desperately standing together. Friend and foe. All stressed, all scared, and all hungry.
Today I share Finding II. of “Conclusions of the Special Project to Prevent the Eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee Relevant to Management Determination for the Everglades Agricultural Area,” Draft Copy, 1975.
Again, I state how important it is that this historic documentation is not stored in our state archives like something out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but rather ready and available to the public. Otherwise, history is rewritten by those with most the power and influence.
For instance, today, one will ofter hear in regards to pollution in Lake Okeechobee, –from those working for and in the EAA,– “The Everglades Agriculture Area (EAA) doesn’t backpump anymore. Our water is cleaner when it leaves than when it came in.” (basically, we are not responsible for the condition of Lake Okeechobee, others are….)
What is missing in this response is that in spite of its numbers the Everglades Agricultural Area remains responsible for damages that plague Lake Okeechobee TODAY.
If you smoked unfiltered cigarettes from the 1940s through the 1980s and then, because of a law suit, the University of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District helped you create “Best Management Practices” that did a great job cleansing your smoke through giant air filters, (like Storm Water Treatment Areas filter the EAA’s dirty water of nitrogen and phosphorus,) would it be correct to say the damage in your lungs has disappeared?
No. The damage in Lake Okeechobee from backpumping is still there and continues to be built upon. The filthy backpumped water of the past is a major reason for the pathetic condition of Lake Okeechobee today. It is time for the EAA and its masters to take responsibility for this and to stop hiding behind their modern day state sponsored improvements.
“With regard to eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee drainage water from 30 percent of the EAA land area is back pumped into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season. An average of 330,000 acre-feet of water entered the lake annually at Structures S-2 and S-3 from the Miami, Hillsboro and New River Canals . In addition drainage districts and the private interest pump approximately 150,000 acre feet of water into the lake from various locations. The EAA irrigation demands draw an average of 438,000 acre-feet from the lake annually…”
Conclusions of the Special Project to Prevent the Eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee Relevant to Management Determination for the Everglades Agricultural Area, Draft Copy, 1975.
Water Backpumped from the Everglades Agricultural Area contributes significantly to the cultural eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee.
The following research evidence is proffered in support of Finding II.
(page 23.) Joyner (1974) found that water pumped from agricultural areas to the southeast is generally the poorest in quality of all water entering Lake Okeechobee….
(page 24.) Brezonik further states: It is clear from the data that Lake Okeechobee presently receives an abundant supply of nutrients. Both nitrogen and phosphorus loading rates or near or above all the (dangerous) levels reported in the scientific literature. (Table 2.) If all backpumping were ceased, the nutrient loading rates would decrease by about 20 percent. This would still leave area loading for nitrogen above the dangerous values, but the volumetric rate would be slightly under the dangerous volumetric rate of Brezonik and Shannon (1971). The photophores loading without backpuming would be lower than all but Vollenweider’s (1968) dangerous rate….
Today I share aerial photographs taken by Ed Lippisch on September 17 around 9:30 am to 10am. The great thing about a photograph is that it speaks for itself! We have avoided a recent tropical storm or a hurricane’s impact on Lake Okeechobee, but the lake remains high at 15.41 feet as reported today by the SFWMD. Stormwater and canals C-23, C-24 continue pollute and discolor the estuary. Remember no fertilizer use during rainy season or if you’re like me EVER! Stay vigilant as hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th. Your eyes in the sky, J&E
Today I share an excerpt form “Conclusions of the Special Project to Prevent the Eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee Relevant to the Management Determination for the Everglades Agricultural Area,” Draft Report, State of Florida 1975. It is important that historical information like this is available to the public. It is mind-boggling that in 2023, seventy years since 1953, the issue of eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee has only worsened. Every year the estuaries are plagued by the threat of discharged toxic algae. Reports like this one lie buried in Florida’s state archives in Tallahassee. Most legislators have probably never read it. What has been done to improve water quality is not enough.
Lake Okeechobee is presently enriched and moderately eutrophic. If the present trend of increasing nutrient loads from the drainage basins is not reversed, the lake could become hyper-eutrophic within the foreseeable future.
The following research evidence is proffered in support of Finding I.
In 1953, Dr. H. T. Odum sampled the phosphorus content of Lake Okeechobee and tributaries to the lake. Although not enough samples were taken to have statistical significance, the values of the samples were well below levels consider to be eutrophic.
In 1953, the lake’s watershed was essentially undeveloped. The fact that the lake had low phosphate values in the water column indicates that the lake was not eutrophic in 1953.Water quality samples taken since 1953 have all shown phosphorus values higher than those taken by Odum. This indicates that present levels of phosphorus in the lake result from man’s drainage and land-use practices in the drainage basins.
Today I am including notes from: Draft, A Summary of Progress of the Special Project to Prevent the Eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee, 1975, inspired by my last post. This draft report eventually led to de-chanalizing a substantial portion of the Kissimmee River, the halting of backpumping by the Everglades Agricultural Area, the beginning of Best Management Practices for Agriculture, and conservation for drinking water.
It must be noted that it was the Central and Southern Florida Plan of 1948, after the great flood of 1947, implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers that channelized the Kissimmee River and created the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). It took me years to understand this. The EAA and its flood protections were created by our federal government. Then acting in lockstep our state government morphed the Everglades Drainage District into the Central and Southern Flood Control District to manage the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District-which included the Everglades Agricultural Area. In 1975, around the time of the Draft publication, the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District was been renamed the South Florida Water Management District. The intensions of the Draft were good, but conflicts of interests continue today with management of the EAA, on both the state and federal level.
Think about it.
So once it was decided the Everglades Agricultural Area could no longer back pump into Lake Okeechobee due to the lake’s eutrophication, the EAA’s government sponsored pollution led to the law suit that now requites all Everglades Agricultural Area “runoff” to go through the Storm Water Treatment Areas to be filtered before it gets to the Conservation Areas thus Everglades National Park. “Lake Okeechobee water” on the other hand sits cooking toxic algae in the still sick lake, before it is sent polluted, unfiltered to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and residents of those estuaries have no legal standing.
Begin quotes from text, 1975:
Water back pumped from the Everglades Agricultural Area contributes significantly to the cultural eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee. (pg. 23)
The major causative factors of the present cultural eutrophication of Lake Okeechobee are:
Canalization of the tributary rivers of streams (especially the Kissimmee River).
Backpumping of highly enriched waters from the Agricultural Area, south of th lake , into the lake during the wet season.
Upland drainage practices in the lake’s watershed.
Inadequate nutrient conservation, livestock management, and other agricultural practices in the watershed.
Management and regulation of the lake and its tributaries which diminish their ability to absorb nutrients. (pg. 5)
In view of the fact that the cessation of back pumping would result in a reduction of the lakes present water budget by some 12-14 percent and that water conserving is one of the over-riding management objectives for the South Florida region the committee recommend further that “runoff water from the Everglades Agricultural Area be stored in or near the EAA for subsequent re-use as irrigation water.” This will alleviate the present need to use an average of 350,000 acre feet of water for the lake for irrigation in the EAA and balance the loss of the present 330,000 acre feet contributed to the lake by back pumping. (pg. 10)
Legal and Administrative Aspects of Management have been created and charged with managing various aspect of the region. The present management structure evolved in piecemeal response to growing management problems. Agency responsibilities often overlapped and conflicted and there is no balanced, integrated, or well directed management program for the region. (pg. 11)
Since 1948, the major resource management agency in South Florida has been the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District which was created to manage the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control Project constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (which includes the EAA.)
Sometimes looking back makes you wonder if you are going forward…
The hand written corrections and typewritten format on the document really bring it home:
Paragraph two: “The lake has been and is being degraded. Poor land and water management practices in the drainage basin threaten to further degrade and destroy the lake’s indispensable values. This was recognized as early as 1971…”
These aerials were taken by my husband, Ed Lippisch, on August 27, 2023 around 12:15pm. Other than an operational burp from Lake Okeechobee through C-44, it’s canals C-23 and C-24 which drain Port St. Lucie, Allapattah Flats, as well as our Tidal Basin – that are causing the present discoloration and decline in water quality. On a good note, though impaired, seagrass beds are visible near the Sandbar and algae is no longer seen from 1000 feet at Port Mayaca.
Northern Lake O algae bloom On Saturday, July 29, 2023, my husband Ed returned from flight with 103 aerial photographs of the St. Lucie River to Lake Okeechobee. When there are so many photographs it is difficult for me to decide which ones to include so I have shared most in gallery format.
The St. Lucie River continues to be darkened by C-23, C-24 and storm water runoff while Lake Okeechobee continues to suffer from cyanobacteria blue-green algae blooms primarily in the north. Ed said there was algae in the middle of the lake but that it was more like a “sheen.” Like gasoline on water.
Ed’s photos show algae on both sides of the St. Luice Canal (C-44), but none at S-80, St. Lucie Locks and Dam, and little visible in the lake -again just a greenish color- at S-308 at Port Mayaca lakeside.
The algae in north Lake Okeechobee is dramatic and looks more clumped than I have witnessed previously. Perhaps wind and rain? Strange…
The only good thing I can say is that the ACOE and SFWMD continue to recommend no discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie River. We’ll see about next week.
On July 25, my brother Todd Thurlow eyeonlakeo texted me that S-308 was open at 1656 cubic feet per second but S-80 remained closed. I would imagine this water let in from the Lake Okeechobee was for canal levels or water supply of agriculture. If I were growing crops I would not wish to accept this water as University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences UF IFAS had notes: “Cyanobacterial toxins can accumulate in crop plants, resulting in injury and yield loss; human health may be affected. Impacts of field crop exposure to cyanotoxins in irrigation water are unknown.”
Known or unknown, it can’t be good.
The historic role of agriculture supported by our state and nation is the primary reason the lake is in such awful condition today; this has been documented since 1969. (U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with Central and South Florida Flood Control District two year study on chemical and biological conditions of Lake Okeechobee, Beyond the 4th Generation, Lamar Johnson 1974.)
Today I share my husband Ed Lippisch’s aerial photographs and one video taken around 11:30am on 7-23-23. Also included in the post are photos of reemerging seagrass beds taken by my brother Todd Thurlow on 7-2-23. A wonderful thing although Todd estimates that just under 80 acres were in the area he visited.
The St. Luice River/Indian River Lagoon is dark from rain, C-23 and C-24 discharge, and stormwater run-off, however most of the ocean looks gorgeous blue. You can even see the nearshore reefs. Seagrass and or macro-algae appear near the sandbars just inside the inlet. Not the 600 acres of yesteryear but some, and this is a good sign. There has been no discharge of Lake Okeechobee since April and that was a small amount with no algae. Nonetheless, it is never good for the river.
Lake Okeechobee shows no major algae blooms near S-308 as just a week ago at Port Mayaca although one can see the long green wisps like shadows in the water. This changes every day and you can follow at eyeonlakeo. This is Todd’s site and it shows Lake Okeechobee at 15 feet. Pray for no hurricanes.
There is algae on the inside gate of S-308 and some along the St. Lucie Canal also known as the C-44 canal as titled when it became part of the Central and South Florida Flood Control Plan of 1948. S-308 is overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers since 1930 but the South Florida Water Management District is involved spaying peroxide pellets on the algae when it gathers in big blue-green-gray rotting clumps as it did last week. The algae dies but more than likely sinks releasing toxins. A conundrum most definitely….
Thank you to my husband Ed who is in his tenth year documenting our waters by air. All of working together are make a difference. We are watching and they know it.
Date taken: 7-12-23 at 1pm/Location S-308 and C-44 Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee, FL/Pilot Ed Lippisch.
Three videos are included of the large cyanobacteria-blue green algae bloom off of S-308. S-308 opens into the C-44 (St. Lucie Canal leading into Stuart and out to St. Lucie Inlet.) This bloom waxes and wanes based on conditions but it “always there.” Nutrient pollution must be overcome.
S-308 is presently closed by ACOE. Keep your eyeonlakeo today measured at 14.87 feet.
Documenting the Discharges – 2023 to St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee – 74 days!
Date: Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Time: Around 11 am
Tide: High at Sewall’s Point
Pilot /Photographer: Ed Lippisch
Location: St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, St Lucie Inlet, Nearshore Reefs, Atlantic Ocean, Sailfish Flats, Jupiter Narrows, S-80 St Lucie Lock and Dam in St Lucie Canal (C-44), and S-308 at Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee
Helpful Charts – Where are We with L.O. Discharges 2023
The discharges have gone on for a long time. The ACOE with the support of the SFWMD began discharging to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on January 22, 2023 as the level of Lake Okeechobee had jumped four feet when Hurricane Ian ground through southwest Florida last September.
Then strangely algae appeared in Lake Okeechobee in February, very early in the year, and the ACOE halted and restarted discharges three times as the Colonel was uncomfortable with the visual amount of algae at S-308 in Port Mayaca. Then the weather got cooler and the the algae visually subsided and the ACOE continued the goal of getting the lake down for the next hurricane season for the lake operation schedule. For a hundred years the water that once flowed south from Lake Okeechobee has been increasingly blocked and redirected to the northern estuaries even though once there was a serious ACOE consideration in the 1950s of a third outlet south of the lake, “Plan 6.”
Today I share charts and information that is easy to understand as we enter the fourth named month of discharges. Will they stop? We have been fortunate in that the weather this year has been very dry and the lake is receding. For water managers according to the recent SFWMD Water Resource Form, current projections still have then lake between 13.5 and 14 feet on June 1st. But it seems so dry. Grass is brown and people are watering their lawns like crazy. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we go into a drought and we wish we had the water later? It has happened before. Mother Nature holds the highest cards in this poker game.
Hi everyone. I wanted to share an email written to me by Todd Thurlow yesterday that really made me smile. It shows that we are getting closer to the ACOE halting Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie River as the lake level is approaching where the Corps wants it to be prior to next hurricane season. And today was so sunny, not a cloud in the sky, surely the lake is even lower. Check eyeonlakeo.com. Have a great weekend!
With the top of the Eco envelope flat at 14.5ft between 3/15 and 4/1, it looks like we are catching up and could get down in the envelope soon.
(By my calcs – I had to interpolate the top and bottom on my own a while back with no publicly available table to find). The 0.27ft number also appears live on the banner of eyeonlakeo.com. I hadn’t looked at it in a while until I was talking to Lt. Col. Polk today at Rivers Coalition and checked it on my phone. We are only +3.2 inches above to Top, as shown on the banner.
These aerials were taken today, March 22, 2023, around 10:45 am. High tide crested at 11:09 am. Thank you to our eye in the sky and the apple of my eye, Ed Lippisch for consistently photographing the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. Also included is S-308 at Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee-checking for algae.
Tomorrow there is a meeting at noon at the St Lucie Locks and Dam of the longstanding defenders of the the river, the Rivers Coalition, asking or one could say, demanding, that the discharges to be stopped. We all know that discharges are helpful for lowing a high (now 14.84) Lake Okeechobee, but not for the health of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, who has unfairly bore this burden for 99 years.
-St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon with discharges of 500 cfs. Aerials Ed Lippisch.
-S-308 3-22-23 Port Mayaca, Lake Okeechobee – no visible algae at 1500 feet, Photos Ed Lippisch.
Today I share “on the water” visual reporting by my brother, Todd Thurlow. On Saturday, March 18, 2023, Todd and family took a boat ride to the popular Sandbar area just inside the St Lucie Inlet of Martin County. This is a region my husband Ed and I have been documenting since the 500 cubic foot per second discharges from Lake Okeechobee began by the Army Corp of Engineers on January 22, 2023. First there was no algae reported then there was. The ACOE has started and stopped at least three times as reported by TCPalm, but now with the weather cool the gates are again open.
For months, from the air, the historic seagrass beds have looked like a desert.
Todd’s pictures close up, on the water, show some life and give hope that by June or August there may be more lush seagrass meadows as retuned in 2022. Sprigs of seagrass, although light, are visible along with young welch, conch, and moon snails. Wading birds and sea birds can be seen feeding on and around the flats. Rays or manatees take off -hiding in sand cover. Such a beautiful place! This area and its critters are protected; be careful and thoughtful when boating here. It is an Indian River Lagoon aquatic preserve.
Ravaged by discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, 2016, and 2018, the SLR/IRL does not need any Lake O water, this particularly holds true when blue green algae has been reported by the SFWMD, ACOE, FDEP, and the public.
Thank you Todd for this documentation 3-18-23 taken around 11: 50 am.
Thank you for FWC – Florida Wildlife Commission- for creating these IRL Aquatic Preserve signage to help educate and protect seagrasses. Please share! IRL A.P. 18-24 large seagrass_sgn
Todd Thurlow is the author of the website eyeonlakeo.com for “science for the everyday person.”
Due to cyanobacteria sightings and thoughtful decisions of Col. Booth, the ACOE has been “off and on” discharging an average of 500 cubic feet per second to the St Lucie River from Lake Okeechobee (15.06 ft).
Today’s aerials show the St Lucie River and Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee on March 11 about two hours after high tide around 1:30 pm. Discharges began January 22, 2023. ~Ed and I continue to document the discharges with the hope that they will be halted as algae is present, visible or invisible, having bloomed early (February) in Lake Okeechobee.
My husband Ed took these aerials yesterday March 4, 2023 around 11am. He described it as a “mid tide” between high and low. Also swinging by Port Mayaca, at Lake Okeechobee, this time there was no visible algae.
Following Ed’s aerials I am including those of Dr. Scott Kuhns whose photographs taken on February 27, 2023 around 10am showing streaks of algae caused the ACOE to close gate S-308 at Port Mayaca for about 2 1/2 days. Kudos to Dr Kuhns! And thank you to the ACOE for closing!
So the pictures directly below are Ed’s 3-4-23 and those following are Scott’s 2-27-23. We will continue to document the discharges with hopes they will be halted. We all agree that St Lucie River suffers under the discharges. She was taking water to avoid algae in summer. No one thought algae sightings would begin so early in February, but they have. With this discovery, it is time to 🛑 stop! Cyanobacteria is impossible to 100% track and understand. It is too ancient and will outsmart us every time. Close the locks.
Today is Ed and my 18th year anniversary. I don’t have a lot of time to go through Ed’s recent photos as we document the discharges so I am just going to post all -of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from February 8, 2023 taken around 1:23 pm. There are only subtle nuances between them. The ACOE started discharging 500 cfs from Lake Okeechobee on January 22, 2023. You can see the effects in these photographs. The water is able to clear near the St Lucie Inlet at this time. No seagrass in sight. Please see previous post to compare. I will write more soon.